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Everyone needs a balance of essential nutrients from a variety of foods to stay healthy. Yet it’s not always easy to eat right when you’re on the go. That’s why some of us reach for vitamins and supplements to fill in the gaps.

Yet, with a plethora of multivitamins, herbs, and botanicals out there, how can you tell if a supplement is safe -- or right for you?

9 Questions to Ask About Vitamins and Supplements

Although there’s contradictory evidence as to whether a daily multivitamin staves off disease, many people add them to their diet to maintain or boost health. Others, such as premenopausal women, sometimes choose individual vitamins and minerals, like iron, to fill in specific gaps.

If you’re evaluating supplements and vitamins to add to your diet, here are nine questions to ask your doctor, pharmacist, and/or registered dietitian:

  • What health benefits does this supplement offer me?
  • Is there any research supporting the use of this supplement?
  • Do I need this supplement for my health, either to treat a medical condition or help prevent disease?
  • What is the recommended dose for this supplement?
  • When and for how long do I need to take this supplement?
  • Which is most appropriate and effective for me -- a pill, powder, or liquid?
  • Which form of the vitamin (vitamin D2 or D3, for instance) is the best?
  • Does this supplement or vitamin have any known side effects?
  • What are the best brands of this supplement in terms of quality, safety, and researched effectiveness?
  • Does this supplement interact with any medications or foods?
  • Will I need to stop taking this supplement or vitamin if I have to undergo surgery?

Which Vitamin Form Should You Choose?

Once you know which vitamin or supplement is right for you, you’ll discover many can be bought as pills, liquids, or powders. One difference between them is the rate at which your body absorbs the supplement and how quickly the supplement becomes active. For example, liquids are absorbed faster than pills. In other cases, the medical action of a particular supplement only occurs when it is in a dry extract form, such as a capsule or pill. Other products do better as a water-based or alcohol-based liquid formulation. Ask your pharmacist or health care provider if you are confused about the correct form of a particular dietary supplement.

Certain supplements are in pill form because they become ineffective, or even dangerous, if exposed to stomach acids. Some people need to take a liquid if they have difficulty absorbing vitamins or supplements from a pill, or even if they have difficulty swallowing capsules or pills.

And not all formulations of a particular vitamin are the same. For example, vitamin D supplements come as either vitamin D-2 (ergocalciferol) or vitamin D-3 (cholecalciferol), with some preliminary evidence showing that vitamin D-3 tends to be the more active form. Also, there are several different types of vitamin E, and some experts feel that a mixture of the natural tocopherols and tocotrienols is the best. When in doubt, talk with your doctor about which supplement suits your needs.

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